Marriage is a unique institution:
A public commitment to another person made in a specifically-named, formal ceremony (“wedding”), with unique clothing (the “bridal” gown) and traditional rituals, before friends and family, who are formally invited with written invitations, officiated over by a state-authorized individual, requiring a state-issued license, signed by witnesses, which must be kept available for public inspection by a government official, with the ceremony followed by a celebration meal.
No other life transition is like it — not college graduations, the birth of the first child, starting the first job, nor retirements from jobs.
Marriage is also an institution that many people avoid today. Despite the protestations of certain groups, they know that marriage is far more than “just a sheet of paper:” It's the single most significant commitment most people make in life.
Among the primary reasons for not making this commitment is people's fear that they'll lose their freedom and independence. However, psychotherapists Linda and Charlie Bloom tell us: “Commitment isn't a prison; it's a means to greater freedom.”
The data supports this strange, counter-cultural statement. Linda Waite reports numerous studies showing that married couples have more wealth, better health, longer lives, and more active and creative sex lives than those who remain single. They are more likely to not just succeed in life, but to feel that their life has significance. Their children also do markedly better than those born to single mothers or to parents who divorce.
These benefits are closely tied to the marital commitment: A committed relationship provides the security we need to fully be ourselves. We invest in the future only if we think there will be a future. The commitment of marriage frees us to invest in the long run because we know there will be a long run.
We only reveal our deepest longings and desires to someone we completely trust. A committed marriage frees us to let someone inside the inner regions of our heart. This is especially true in sexual intimacy, where real satisfaction requires not simply physical nakedness, but also emotional nakedness.
We all need someone to monitor the status of our health, diet, sleep and exercise habits. We need someone who frequently sees the back of our neck and the small of our back, and other more private body parts, and can notice that “the small, funny-looking spot seems to be getting bigger” and encourage us to see a doctor. The marital commitment frees us to have the same person available, year in and year out, making that regular inspection.
The vow to love “for better or for worse” has real meaning because we all have “better” days and “worse” days. The Blooms explain that the commitment of marriage brings “the security that comes from sharing a life with someone who knows you at your best and worst and who will not withdraw their support when you're having a bad day.” This allows you to be you, without worry that you'll be rejected because the “you” who shows up today is not at your best.
The Blooms note that feeling loved by someone who is committed to you and letting that love into your life by committing to them “provides a fantastic freedom: freedom from fear of loss and freedom to be ourselves fully.”
I've been told by skydivers that there is an exhilarating sense of freedom when you jump out of the airplane. Marriage also brings a unique freedom. But like skydiving, to feel it, you first have to leap.
©2013, All Rights Reserved. James Sheridan's website is www.marriagedoneright.com. This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.